shug by Jenny Han. (Grades 6-8)
Oh my. Every time I look at this book's cover, it makes me crave a big cherry popsicle. Mmm. The book is just as delicious.
Annemarie Wilcox is starting junior high and she's just realized that she's in love with her best friend Mark. Annemarie (called "Shug" by her mother and we'll get into that in a second) has known Mark since they were little kids. They know everything about each other. He's her Mark. And she just knows that they're destined to fall in love and be each others' first kiss. But junior high is starting. And suddenly everything seems to be changing. Mark's more interested in hanging out with the guys than hanging out with Annemarie. Annemarie's parents aren't getting along and their fights are getting bigger than normal. And all of Annemarie's girl friends are preoccupied with boys. Everyone seems to be growing up and changing, and Annemarie seems to be the only one who'd rather stay a kid.
Her mother calls her Shug after Shug Avery from The Color Purple because that character is a very strong and beautiful woman. Annemarie's mother has always told her that she is special. For the most part, Annemarie doesn't believe her. Instead, she feels like her beautiful older sister Celia outshines her at every opportunity. As the book progresses, Annemarie learns that others do see her as a beautiful and special person. I thought I had this book all figured out. I thought from the very start that I knew how it would end. I was kind of right, but mostly wrong. This is a coming-of-age story that's both bitter and sweet. Annemarie is a great character. She's not perfect, but she's stronger than she thinks she is.
It's a very girly book. Chick lit, but with a strong storyline and characters. It reminded me of the Alice books. There is some alcohol consumption (including one scene where the popular girls pressure Annemarie into drinking beer at a slumber party) and Annemarie talks about getting her first period. For these reasons, it may not be suitable for younger readers.
I felt like it started a little slowly for me. It's one of those books that plops you down right in the middle of the story and just keeps building. I'd say about 100 pages in, I was totally hooked. I loved Annemarie and wanted to see her succeed, wanted to see what was going to happen with her and her friends. Could she stand up to the queen bees she secretly despised? Would Mark realize his folly and turn out to love her back? I thought the ending was very realistic. It wraps everything up, but not everything gets wrapped up with a neat little happy bow.
You can check out more reviews of shug over at Jen Robinson's Book Page, Little Willow (who's also got a couple of author interviews you won't want to miss), and Fuse #8 for starters.